What Would God Do?

Coming full circle, I’ve seen a fair number of religious folk responding to What Would Google Do? and wondering what its laws and lessons mean for their churches. What would, uh, Jesus do?

Ron Smith, pastor of a church in San Diego, took my rules about the new ethic and reinterpreted them biblically. The gospel according to Google:

Make mistakes well. As I write my Doctorate I am learning that one of the most detestable things about the church is hypocrisy. When we as “believers” make a mistake we should admit it. Admitting errors makes you believable.

Life is beta. Life is a test. We, Christians, of all people should know this one. Life is dress rehearsal, quit acting like you have it figured out. Marrissa Mayer, VP of Google stated, “Innovation, not instant perfect perfection.” That should be our message. Sanctification, not perfection. I have not arrived. I am still learning about faith, life, marriage, hope, joy, peace, love. Just when I think I have mastered the fruit thing, I find myself out of season. Then I have to wait for the next growth opportunity to sprout fruit.

Be Honest. No comment on this one. Tell the truth!

Be transparent. Admittedly I was hesistant to blog, Twitter or Facebook. I mean how far do you go telling everybody exactly what you are doing at every moment and how long can we post the most creative stuff for the social platform world to be amazed. Well, soon I learned that all knowledge may be helpful but it may not be appropriate. Point: Let people know you struggle, hurt, or that you just don’t have it all together. Let people know you are happy, full of joy, excited and ready to tackle the world.

Collaborate. The beauty of the body is the body working together. Thank you Lord my toes don’t compete to be fingers. Can you imagine the war when it came time to type, or eat?

Don’t be evil. Treat others like you want to be treated.

What would Google do? Well, I think Google just reinforced the teachings of Christ.


Chuck Warnock, who blogs as a small-church pastor, has the courage to face what newspapers, book publishers, car companies, and other industries (is religion an industry? sure) won’t: their disappearance in current form and replacement in new form. Warnock could give this sermon to newspaper executives (sadly, they wouldn’t listen – and wouldn’t be saved); the impact of change is similar and the need for innovation exactly the same. He says:

I have been saying that we’re counting the wrong things in church (attendance) when we should be counting community engagement. I’ve also said that church attendance will decrease (this is not an original thought), and we’re moving rapidly toward a post-Christendom era like Europe. . . ..

We can be certain of this — we live in an age of discontinuous change and unexpected consequences. Nobody knows exactly what church will look like in the future because we’re not there yet. But I have a feeling it will be multiple models, not one predominant model like we had from WWII until about 1985. . . .

We’ll still have bricks-and-mortar churches, but also house churches, coffee shop churches, outdoor churches, churches that meet once a month, churches that meet online, churches that consists of groups which interact frequently, and churches that we can’t even imagine yet. We will also see ’single market’ churches that focus on the homeless or the physically handicapped or the poor or any niche group you can think of.

In other words, the same thing that is happening in the broader culture will happen in churches, too — more options, more models, a network of niches, rather than a predominant church form.

I am also certain that whatever emerges, church will not ever be the same again. By extension, neither will denominations, cross-cultural missions programs, or Christian education programs be the same again. These will all change radically, because the current models are unsustainable in today’s culture.

And then James (can’t find his last name), a Texas pastor, tries to adapt the rules of Google’s age to his Presbyterian church:

Free is a business model: . . . Still, many churches have a mentality in which they hoard the blessings which they have received. For example, a church building that remains empty most of the week is a waste of resources. Sermons, curriculum, writings and even music (within copyright restrictions) should be made available to the widest audience. . . .

Life is a beta: This speaks more to culture rather than policies and procedures, but a Church who expects mistakes fosters a spirit of forgiveness and humility. There is willingness to try new things, to ask tough questions, and to realize that we never achieve perfection. . . .

Your worst customer is your best friend: The Church should be willing to listen and respond to the misfits and the critics.


  • Hey there Jeff. I hope you interpreted this as a compliment to your book. I hope OMG at the end of the blog was a good thing. I really enjoyed your book and I only meant to help the church. You had to know that religious people would be intrigued by your book title since it sounds much like the bracelets many wear.. WWJD.

    • Ron,
      I was absolutely delighted to see all three of you write about it and extend the thinking. I had thought of including a chapter on churches but didn’t have the right ideas – as good as all those here.
      Thanks so much.
      I once delivered a sermon about making mistakes and I realize that it’s the beta law. I doubt my fellow Congregationalists at the time would have gotten betathink, though.

      • Thats funny. I feel the same way about the churches I first pastored.. I feel like I need to apologize to them. Thanks for the reply – good to hear from you.

  • Jeff, thanks for picking this up. Your book, WWGD, is must-reading for those who follow culture and its implications downstream. I enjoy your blog and appreciate the quote. Thanks, Chuck

  • Jim Puglisi

    Hi Jeff,
    Thanks so much for your book. I ordered it immediately after reading the RSS feed from Business Week and my first thoughts were directed to how Google’s philosophy might be applied to my church. Bummer sermons, constant talk about money (one-tenth of the New Testament devoted to it, so that justifies it), what can I do for the church? buy new furniture. The church is about people not buildings. Google is about people even more than technology. We have over one million Python programmers in the wild waiting to contribute. Apple is another good example with their wildly successful app store. People want to contribute, want to be part of something BIG. Unfortunately, the church is falling by the wayside because they are not letting people actually be part of it. Drag in new members, “you’re here for the wrong reason.” What is the right reason?

  • Jim

    I laugh when I read any commentary on reform, whether its talking about the church (an institution I was once fully invested in, but am no more), or newspapers (something that was once a daily habit, but will never be again). Political reform is also a running joke with me.

    The old adage has become hackneyed, but it still fits–power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.

    Give a leader of a church, or a newspaper the power to make a difference, and the things that matter to them, no longer are what keeps their church, or newspaper vital.

    The church has had a sacred guidebook to chart its course for 2,000 years, and see how well that’s turned out. The church today, from Rick Warren (and his purpose-driven drivel), to some small fundamentalist pastor railing in the rural wilderness, is as corrupt, and infused with the world and consumerism, as any secular organization. Why is that, given all the talk of WWJD? Jesus and sinners aren’t welcome in most American churches. Newspapers, while lacking a sacred manual, have been given countless ideas, suggestions, and even soliloquies on what they need to do to be viable. Few newspaper owners/editors/publishers have heeded the clarion call. Both churches, and newspapers suck! The latter, will fade from viability before the former.

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  • Jeff, Thanks so much for the quote, and thanks for writing the book. It’s been fun thinking through the lessons that you outline. It’s also great to read how these other pastors are thinking about them.

    I have been thinking more and more about the church as a platform, and I think the metaphor might present some exciting possibilities. I guess the conversation continues. Grace and Peace to you.

    • If only all blog comments ended that way….

  • I have thought at length about this very topic. In WWGD, you extend the thinking of Chris Anderson and others on the notion of the Middleman. For some, churches have become the “middleman.” Many forgo the bricks and mortar for “bedside” services. What will the church do to facilitate this change? Prosperity preachers are faltering with the economy. People are tired of bankrolling their unbelievable ministries and many are finally realizing that faith is not for sale. Organized religion is going to change, spirituality will continue to grow. Most churches cannot survive the notion of “free.” They depend on their tithes and offering. As people start giving money directly to their not profit and personal passions, some churches will close. Hopefully, someone will document this monumental shift.

  • Amanda Jenkins

    A lot of people most likely would not have gotten the beta thing, But i agree churches should change and adapt. With out adapting to what is happening in the world we can not fight for God. There are so many churches where when service is over all you want to do is get out of there and go on with your life, that only breeds individuals not a church body or even the body of Christ. We need to all work together to build up the body. Realizing that small groups are what keep a church growing. In big churches you can feel as though you dont matter, if you dont show up for sunday school or service no one would notice. What most people dont realize is its possible to feel that way no matter what size church you attend or are members of.
    Churches need to be less about things like tithing and building that new building they think they need so badly and more about the people that are there.
    I’m lucky i go to a church where the pastor almost has to kick people out to get them to leave the building, and then we could stand outside and talk more for hours and never run out of things to say. Most of us only leave church when we get hungry and then we go out together. I believe that all churches should be that way.
    I have a pastor that is open and honest about the troubles he has had in life. He is also willing to admit when he is wrong, which you don’t find that often.
    My church feels more like a family to me than anything else really, and that is how i believe all churches should feel.
    All this denomination stuff is just a way for satan to try to split the Body of Christ. If we let him we are fools but if we learn from our mistakes and let others learn form them as well then we will all grow in Christ.

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